Henri Langlois

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Henri Langlois
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Henri Langlois

Henri Langlois (November 13, 1914 - January 13, 1977) was a pioneer in film preservation and restoration.

Langlois was born in Izmir, Turkey. He started his archives with private funds and only a handful of films but over the next few decades the collection grew to many thousands titles and the French government started financing it.

Henri Langlois, George Franju, and Jean Mitry, founded the Cinémathèque Française (a Paris-based film theater and museum) in 1936 which progressed from ten films in 1936 to more than 60,000 films by the early 70s. More than just an archivist, Langlois saved, restored and showed many films that were at risk of disintegration. Films are stored in celluloid, a material which requires a highly controlled environment and some degree of attention to survive over time.

During the Second World War, Langlois and his colleagues helped to save many films that were in risk of being destroyed due to the Nazi occupation of France.

Langlois's desire to save films from oblivion may be rooted in the partial destruction, and consequent looting, of his place of birth in World War I. At the time of Langlois's birth, Izmir was a Greek city then named Smyrna. The port city was partially destroyed in the hostilities after World War I after the Greeks attacked Turkey from a base there which they had occupied. It was then rebuilt after 1922. The large Greek population was expelled or killed.

Besides films, Langlois also helped to preserve other items linked to cinema such as cameras, projection machines, costumes and vintage theater programmes.

Langlois made an important impact on the French 1960s New Wave directors, including Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol and Alain Resnais among others, and the generation of filmmakers that followed. Some of these filmmakers were called les enfants de la cinémathèque ("children of the cinémathèque").

In 1968, French culture minister Andre Malraux tried to fire Langlois by stopping funding of the project, allegedly due to Langlois' arrogance and iron-fisted rule. Local and international uproar ensued, and even the prestigious Cannes Film Festival was halted in protest that year. Malraux bracktracked.

In 1970, an English language documentary titled "Henri Langlois" was made that told of his life's work, featuring inteviews with Ingrid Bergman, Lillian Gish, Francois Truffaut, Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau and others. In 1974, Langlois received an honorary Academy Award for his lifetime work with the Cinémathèque.

Up to his death in Paris in 1977, Langlois was trying to expand the projects to other countries, such as the United States. Many other countries all over the world have similar projects inspired in the Cinematheque.

"Place Henri Langlois" in the 13th arrondissement in Paris is named in his honor.

He is interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

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